Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Developing Kalgar's motivations...

In our last post, our party of 3 had traveled to the Doomguard's Headquarters, learned about the
Dallas Kasaboski
structure of this secret society, and set off to Aes to find out more about their development of superweapons.

I also expressed personal concern over the lack of depth to my character Kalgar. Last week's session was great, but because I was still finding the character, I felt lost, or at best, unsure. Before we get to what happened this week, I want to share how I overcame this feeling.

Last week's session was the first time our characters had not been on a mission, moving from fight to fight, and so I found myself to be a little lost as to what Kalgar would be doing, what he would be thinking. Now, a lot of D&D players might not have noticed or thought about this, but D&D is, at its heart, a roleplaying game. One of the things I enjoy most about D&D is becoming someone or something else and exploring their motivations and actions in the make-believe worlds the DM sets out. And hitting stuff, because that's fun too.

At the end of last session, we had decided to go back to Aes, the western-most part of the continent, and Kalgar's homeland. As you may or may not recall, Kalgar had served in Aes's navy for a good part of his life, and had faked his own death in order to escape when he realized that his country's use of superweapons conflicted with his own beliefs. Now, I was very concerned about going back there, and expressed it when it was suggested, but it did seem like a decent course of action, and we all promised to be careful.

So, over the course of the week, I thought quite a lot about Kalgar. I also did more homework in one week than I usually do in 1 month, but those transit rides to/from the school were great times to relax and think about D&D. I needed to find Kalgar, I needed to get to know him a little better, and I needed to familiarize myself with Aes.

Now, the DM had not really created much on the country of Aes. What he had was included in his world-building post seen here. Still, I knew that if I made it interesting and sensible enough, I could work with the DM to fit it into the world.

First thing, I thought a lot more about Kalgar's way of life before leaving. While I had written a general backstory, I hadn't put too much thought into his day-to-day actions. He had served in the navy, but how? I had written him as the Chief Executive Officer, in charge of keeping the crew in line and sort of a second in command to his captain. I had written that he led boarding parties, so I thought to focus on that a little more. Who went with him? Always the same group or did he choose different people each time?

It made more sense that he always had the same group with him, and because I had made Kalgar naturally a little "rough around the edges", he would be close to them, but not overly friendly. How would we have met? Did we meet on the ship and just start working together? Well, the answer came to me when I thought more about the mainland.

Kalgar had spent almost all of his life aboard ships, but even sea-faring ships come to port every now and again. What did Kalgar find on land? What would he do once he was there? As I mentioned, the DM hadn't written up too much concerning the culture or structure of Aes, but I realized it wasn't too important as Kalgar probably didn't go much farther than the taverns. He might have been sent to a warehouse to collect supplies needed aboard ship, but shipping warehouses and port taverns convey a general atmosphere which is quite comparable between the worlds of reality and make-believe.

So, Kalgar spent time in the pubs, probably drinking alone, or with people but not rambunctiously. Bar fights would be common, as they usually are in port taverns in stories, plus these taverns would house military personnel and not only that, dragonborn personnel.

I had a couple of nice walks to and from the school imagining my giant dragonborn getting into bar fights and that's when I realized that there is where he would have met his boarding party. Once, there had been a terrible storm, one which had broken up many ships and left many sailors to be "refugees" or sailors without a ship. The Vutha Kepesk, Kalgar's ship, had made it in after the storm, and while he was drinking at a booth, some sailors were bothering him.

First Kriv, a younger, chatty dragonborn sailor, approached Kalgar challenging him to a fight. He was bored, and wanted to see what Kalgar could do. Kalgar laughed, brushing him off as not worth his time.

Sora, a female dragonborn, came over asking to join Kalgar. Not very charismatic, he said he preferred to be alone, and she then dumped his drink on his head.

Ghesh, a monstrous brute of a dragonborn, (and that's saying something considering Kalgar's size) took Kalgar's drink from the barmaid, drank it, and refused to pay for it. 

Just then, some other dragonborn sailors came in and started heckling the three about recently becoming refugees. Kalgar told the newcomers to settle down, was mistaken for a refugee, and a fight broke out. Kalgar found himself fighting with those who had challenged/bothered him only moments before. He convinced his captain to take them aboard, and they had been together ever since.

It was all too easy to come up with this story. It may sound a bit generic, but I figure with a ship and world full of possibilities, some of the oldest stereotypes are going to come true. I wanted his comrades, as he called them, to reflect the different sides of Kalgar. Ghesh was pure muscle, but not too bright, and too obedient. Dragonborn and especially the military of Aes, are far too proficient at being loyal, and I wanted Ghesh to be the Jayne to Kalgar's Mal, if that Firefly made any sense to you. (I apologize for the poor quality of that video, but I could not find that scene elsewhere). So, Ghesh shows that Kalgar is strong, but there is more to him. Ghesh would have respected Kalgar, but was always challenging him for command.

Kriv's purpose was to show that Kalgar was not young, and was a little more grounded than a reckless youth. I imagined Kriv to be almost a pirate in the way he joked, chatted, and slithered around on missions. He's ambitious, foolhardy, and he reflects those qualities in Kalgar.

I came up with Sora for a couple of reasons. The first was that D&D can be a male-dominated game, sometimes, but especially so when the game is run and played by guys. It's not done on purpose, and I think you'll find that women are often on the minds of us players, but since none of our characters were female, I thought more about what a female dragonborn would be like. Again, her character is a comparison to Kalgar's. I made her tough, but reasonable, always a source of logic. She would be the one who truly challenged Kalgar. Not for command, but she would always be the one to poke holes in his plans, question his commands, and at the same time provide sensible reasons why Kriv and Ghesh should follow Kalgar. I also decided to give Sora and Kalgar their own personal history together. Nothing serious, just your standard "man and woman who seem to hate each other but whose yelling turns into something crossed between a fight and lovemaking" stereotype. They might have fooled around a few times but no one ever mentioned anything of it, probably because Sora would gut them, and Sora and Kalgar themselves did not take it that seriously, just letting off steam, as it were.

So, there we go. A reasonable set of characters whose very creation gave me some insights into my own character. Now, was that really necessary? Well, I think so. As Batman is often quoted as saying, amongst my friends anyway, it's what we doooo which defines us. In order to really create a full character, I think it's important to consider how that character interacts with others, in different situations. Otherwise, you have a model, but not a true understanding of the character and when you face new situations and challenges, without this depth, you won't know how to proceed.

Thinking about taverns, bar fights, and sailing got me thinking about music. I realized that Kalgar lacked flavour, as in he lacked subtle yet awesome references to his life and quirks. Tong, our traveling monk, is constantly reminding us that he is an odd monk who is very dedicated to his god, Ioun, the goddess of knowledge. Every action, every voiced thought is laced with religious imagery. Whether it be the crazy acrobatics in battle, the odd references to Ioun, the constant outspoken approval of knowledge, or the odd requests for "the nearest meditation niche" at every new place we go, Tong reminds us what he is all about. And this helps Alex (playing Tong) to stay in character which is not only amazingly entertaining, but helps Alex to think like Tong so he may consider actions and choices from Tong's perspective. We all try to be good roleplayers here at D4sign, and so it is important to make decisions and voice concerns from our character's perspective. Sure, we may have to consider other things, but it helps drive the action, build the suspense and tension, and fuel the motivations if we work from within our characters. This makes the game an experience, and makes the successes and failures that much more meaningful.

Anyway, sorry, I'm rambling. Point is: Kalgar did not have a lot of flavour. It's the hardest thing to work in well into a game. Too much, or too obvious, and it feels forced. Not enough, and you and your other players forget who you're trying to be. So, as I thought about it, the idea of music came to mind as a way to bring some of my character's persona to life.

Sailing for most of his life, and getting into bar fights, Kalgar would have heard his share of music. He might not be too musical himself, but every soldier loves a good marching song, and Kalgar lives for battle. A quick perusal of my brain, and the internet, yielded some songs, and their lyrics, my friends and I used to sing at the pub. Modifying the words a little, I was able to make it more about Aes, and the life of a sailor.

Here is the song, Admiral Draxxos, modified from Great Big Sea's General Taylor:

Well Admiral Draxxos gained the day
Rock him along, Kord, Carry him along
Well Admiral Draxxos he gained the day
Carry him to Sea Dragon’s Sound


Tell me where it’s stormy
Rock him along, Kord, carry him along
Tell me where it’s stormy
Carry him to Sea Dragon’s Sound

We'll sail him to the Isle of Jade
Rock him along, Kord, Carry him along
Of the finest scale, his shroud will be made
Carry him to Sea Dragon’s Sound


We'll lower him down on a golden chain
Rock him along, Kord, Carry him along
For 900 years, we’ll sing in his name
Carry him to Sea Dragon’s Sound


Admiral Draxxos he's all the go
Rock him along, Kord, Carry him along
He's gone where the stormy winds don’t blow
Carry him to Sea Dragon’s Sound


Admiral Draxxos he's dead and he's gone
Rock him along, Kord, Carry him along
Well Admiral Draxxos he's long dead and gone
Carry him to Sea Dragon’s Sound

What do you think? I am very proud of this. I love General Taylor; its cadence, everything really, and so the challenge of modifying the song to fit Kalgar and Aes was extremely fun. As I was changing things, John to Kord, finding a rhyme for made (Jade), and trying to change it so the chorus didn't talk about a burial ground (I mean, who talks of burial in the ground whilst at sea), I started subconsciously making up lore. What was the Isle of Jade? What was Sea Dragon's Sound. Here is the writeup I made for that, below:

Modeled after General Taylor, this song commemorates Admiral Draxxos, a dragonborn famed for gathering a naval force and restoring peace/balance to the land of Aes after The Great Betrayal. The Isle of Jade is a place of legend, said to have been Admiral Draxxos’s secret port, where he gathered his strength and hid his treasure. Many debate the meaning of the name; was it an island made of jade? Was it purely an island with a lot of grass? No one knows as no one’s been able to find it. Sea Dragon’s Sound, also known as the Northeast Passage, was a famed, but as it turns out non-existent, passage of water on the borders of Aes, Dragon’s Waste and Canitia.

Sometimes the creative process really builds on itself, and this was one of those times. I started by thinking about what type of music Kalgar might have heard, something militarial/navy related, and ended up creating lore of Kalgar's homeland. I ran this all by the DM who loved it and threw it in with his notes for Aes. I modified a few other songs, but haven't included them, Admiral Draxxos being my favourite by far. 

So, I had a bit more backstory, a feel for the land of Aes and how Kalgar might have interacted with it, now I just needed some more religious affectation, as mentioned earlier. The first thing I did was re-visit Kalgar's motivations for leaving, and how they might have been received by his shipmates.

Well, the short answer is, they probably hate his guts right about now. While Kalgar faked his death, there wasn't a body to be found, so they probably still think he's a deserter especially since the superweapon disappeared at the same time. More specifically, I imagined that Kalgar's questioning of the use of the weapon probably caused him to lose popularity amongst the crew and her captain, and Kalgar's closer comrades would have cautioned/threatened him to fall back in line. Ghesh would be eager to take over, Kriv would be eager to follow whoever could promote him the fastest, and while Sora may have partially understood, she would have warned Kalgar that following the captain's orders was the only way, the only safe and consistent way, and that Kalgar could not live in this way, questioning things. Kalgar might have apologized to them, told Sora she was right, and then deserted them, doing his best to make people believe he was dead, not only to cover his tracks, but because he didn't want his comrades to think him a coward or a traitor.

I thought more about Kord, and Kalgar's reasons for leaving and was assured that it all made sense. Kord's teachings are about battle, strength, and the storms, but they also mention not using strength for wanton destruction. The first test of an Aesian superweapon killed all the researchers and turned a healthy strip of land into an additional portion of the Dragon's Waste desert. While Kalgar might admit that it made sense to use 1 large weapon to fight battles instead of wasting ships and her crew, there were still 2 things wrong with this according to Kord: if the weapon was used for conquest, against an innocent or extremely unmatched opponent, any victory would be hollow; and Kord praises battle and its virtues in learning who we are and becoming better people, better warriors so a superweapon would again be a shallow gesture. At best, such a weapon would be like cheating in sports, and at worst, such a weapon would be seen as evil. Kord is an unaligned god in D&D, but there are many examples of His history which might indicate that he might not be happy with this. More importantly, Kalgar's interpretation of Kord's way speaks to the impropriety of such weapons.

As Kalgar's adventures continues, he's going to want and need to learn more about his god. He is leaning on his faith system, and his new-found comrades, to structure his life. Kalgar will probably always need strict structure in his life, whether it be imposed on him or by him. He is a dragonborn, known to be extremely honour-bound, strict and ones to adhere to a code of conduct. As Kalgar continues, he is going to want to learn more about his god so he may confirm his own beliefs, and develop them so he may serve Kord better. Additionally, Kalgar will want to learn more about the world so that he can know where he might fit in and how he might help best. I think that as the game continues, Kalgar will have to make some very serious choices which could affect his entire motivation in life and his relation to Kord. I know the DM, and so I know that the road will not be easy, but it will be worth traveling upon.

And there you have it! That turned into a longer post than I expected, but I worked very hard on trying to give depth to my character. While I have posted before about character creation and development, I think this is the most "work" I've done for a character in quite some time. I usually try to adopt an adaptive process, but this time I wanted my character to be consistent, from as early into the game as possible.

I don't know if the other players will get a chance to read this before we play again (tomorrow), so I look forward to surprising them. Be sure to check back here again soon as this next session should prove very exciting! 

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